THURSDAY NOVEMBER 01 2001
FBI fury as men with nuclear plan escape
FROM KATTY KAY IN WASHINGTON
WITH America on top security alert, the FBI was hunting yesterday for six men of Middle Eastern appearance carrying plans of a nuclear power plant and the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline who were picked up by police in the Midwest over the weekend but then released.
The incident is thought to be connected with the latest FBI alert and senior intelligence officials are furious that the men were set free before they could be fully questioned.
The men were travelling in two groups of three in white saloon cars when they were pulled over by police officers in the Midwest, according to the Knight Ridder News Service. Security officials have refused to disclose further details.
The men were searched and questioned and the state officers discovered detailed plans and photographs of a nuclear power plant in Florida, along with box cutters — the weapons used in the September 11 attacks — and other equipment.
The men, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin and held Israeli passports, were then interviewed by immigration officials. When their passports and visas were found to be in order the officers, who were not aware of the country’s imminent security alert, let the men go without first calling in the FBI to question them more thoroughly.
It is not clear why the men were pulled over in the first place nor why intelligence officers were not given a chance to interview them. Agents suspect that the men will by now have switched cars and tried to flee the country, possibly to Canada.
Intelligence officials were especially concerned about the nuclear plant details. America’s nuclear facilities received special attention in the latest FBI alert. The men were also carrying plans of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline, which delivers 17 per cent of America’s oil.
There are three nuclear facilities in Florida, which have now been advised to step up security. One of the plants has called in local police as an extra security precaution.
The news came as the US banned private flights near US nuclear facilities for the next ten days, in connection with the warning of another terrorist attack, and National Guard troops were deployed at nuclear power plants in three southern states. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered the nation’s 103 nuclear power plants to increase security.
At a time when police have unprecedented powers to arrest and detain people who are merely suspected of having links to terrorist activities, the release of these six men has infuriated the FBI.
The incident suggests a dangerous lack of co-ordination between different law enforcement bodies. Under America’s new anti-terrorist laws, police can hold someone almost indefinitely on charges of being a “material witness” to terrorism.
Canada announced that it had given the US important intelligence about another possible imminent terrorist attack. Canadian secret services intercepted telephone calls and e-mails from al-Qaeda operatives in Canada that referred to a major event taking place “down south” this week.
Law enforcement officials said that the US military intercepted numerous other calls leading up to the alert, which all used the same coded phrases. The FBI received intelligence about the new threat on Monday.